Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner says that Ecuador is establishing a “lasting peace” and that discussions between the government and indigenous groups are helping to solve problems that led to October’s protests. “It is important to remember, however, that the ongoing dialog is not only with the indigenous but with all sectors of the population.”
In two recent interviews, Sonnenholzner said that the government is listening to its citizens and developing plans to overcome inequality, to improve services to poor communities, to offer assistance to small agricultural producers and to improve the ability of businesses to increase employment.
“We have learned much from our talks, not just how to improve our relationship with indigenous, who comprise six percent of the population, but with the entire country,” he said. “We are working with the National Assembly on legislation to address unresolved issues as well as developing executive policies to serve the people.”
Sonnenholzner acknowledged that the government made a mistake when it announced the elimination of fuel subsidies that sparked the October protests. “We were not smart in the way we handled this. We did not hold proper discussions with those affected by the decision and this led to unrest.” He added that he still believes ending the subsidies is a legitimate goal. “We will continue to work toward this end but it will be done with consensus reached through dialog.”
The vice president maintains, however, that subsidies were only the “ignition point” of the protests and not the underlying cause. “I have talked to many people, including the indigenous and campesinos, and they tell me that the price of fuel was not their main concern. They are more interested in inadequate services to poor and rural communities, lack of opportunity and government corruption.”
Asked about the absence of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) in the current dialog, Sonnenholzner says that the group and its leadership is welcome to join any time and that other indigenous organizations are involved. “We welcome all organizations that represent elements of indigenous populations to the table.”
President Lenin Moreno reached a settlement with Conaie in October that ended the nationwide protests but the group refuses to join the dialog, claiming the government is violating terms of the agreement.
Sonnenholzner maintains that the tax simplification law passed Monday by the National Assembly and budget reform legislation that will be sent to the Assembly on Wednesday are critically important to restoring fiscal order in the country. “Just as addressing issues with the indigenous and poor are important, so are those that affect the economic viability of the country,” he says. “The issues are interrelated since fiscal health leads to greater employment which benefits the entire population.”
He added that Ecuador continues to make progress in reducing poverty and now ranks among the top five Latin American countries for lowest poverty rate. “Extreme poverty, where we have concentrated much of our work, has been reduced from 21.6% to 17.4% in the past three years” he said. “This directly affects more than 230,000 people, including 140,000 children.”